Three architectural design teams offered futuristic ”alternatives“ to the controversial CentrePointe development Monday, showing plans that included greenspaces, areas for public gatherings and otherworldly buildings that they said would draw people downtown.
The University of Kentucky College of Design invited young architects to take a crack at coming up with concepts that would show what is possible outside the much-criticized Webb Companies design, which some say is too large and mediocre. It would raze all the remaining buildings in the block bounded by Main, Vine and South Upper streets and Limestone for a 35-story structure.
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The three designs were conceptual — made to get people thinking and talking about the possibilities for cutting-edge architecture for a vibrant downtown. They were not offered as actual full-scale designs.
While some city officials still hope that such ideas may prompt changes to the Webb design, the fate of most of the historic buildings to be destroyed could be decided Tuesday in Fayette Circuit Court. Judge Pamela Goodwine is to hear Preserve Lexington's request for a temporary injunction against razing the structures.
Opponents want the buildings saved until the Planning Commission can hear an appeal of the Courthouse Area Design Review Board's decision to allow their demolition and begin construction.
The CentrePointe hotel, condominium, office and retail development proposed by developers Dudley and Woodford Webb would cost $250 million.
Architects from Los Angeles, Chicago and the University of Kentucky, working with UK students, started a marathon 48-hour design session Friday. Each team came up with different configurations for the block.
The design teams presented their ideas to an audience of about 60, including Vice Mayor Jim Gray, city officials and faculty members.
In the Los Angeles team's design (drawing No. 1), three curved towers spring from a swooping base. The UK team shows a tower with horizontal slices in an uneven arrangement (drawing No. 2). The third proposal, from the Chicago team, showcases towers cut by large vertical openings (drawing No. 3).
”These designs appear radical when compared to Atlanta, but not when compared to Beijing and Chicago,“ said David Biagia, director of the UK School of Architecture and a professor in the design college. ”Atlanta is not necessarily the direction we want to move in to get inspiration.“
Inviting the public
Common threads that ran through all the designs included incorporating some historic buildings, adding public spaces and encouraging daytime activities and nightlife.
Los Angeles-based architects Heather Flood and Ramirez Diaz-Granados led a team that would reduce the size of CentrePointe by half. ”It seemed shockingly large to us ... self-contained, like a gated community,“ Flood said. The complex seemed more appropriate in scale for Atlanta, which is where they were told it was originally designed to go, Flood said.
Liz Swanson and Michael McKay, a husband and wife on UK's design faculty, started with the idea that great cities have streetscapes with a variety of building styles and heights. Their design calls for the creation of ”interlocking zones of activities,“ where the farmers' market, an amphitheater, a park and small retail spaces would invite the public into the area.
Swanson suggested that South Limestone between Main and Vine streets — next to Phoenix Park — could be closed on Saturdays (like Fourth Street Live in Louisville), creating a large festival area.
In the Swanson, McKay design, the farmers' market has a permanent location on Vine Street. The Rosenberg building would be converted to a small grocery where farmers could also sell their produce.
Architect Paul Preissner, a team leader and principle with the Chicago firm The Qua'Virarch, said that when developers want to do something, ”they go ahead and do it. They think if they invest enough money and capital, people will be too afraid to stop it. "We've already spent two years on it. You can't stop us now,'“ is their thinking, he said.
The designs from the three teams did not include cost estimates.
Preissner said the weekend design workshop idea is ”brilliant. ... It demonstrates that the school is not just a place to get an education, but is an incubator for ideas.“
A backward process?
David Mohney, former dean of the UK College of Design, said that the CentrePointe process has been ”enormously frustrating“ because it has been backward.
Plans for the prominent downtown block should have started with speculative designs such as the ones seen Monday, moved to negotiations about public space, then assessed the historic structures and what it means to keep them, and ended with a project. ”It has been the exact opposite,“ said Mohney, who also chairs the Downtown Development Authority's board.
Councilman Dick DeCamp said that in conversations with developer Dudley Webb, DeCamp told him repeatedly, ”"We can do better than this. We've got to do something great.' And today has opened my mind to the great possibilities that could happen for the city.“ CentrePointe is in DeCamp's 3rd District.
He was critical that ”the people who are involved financially, who own the land, they're all traveling. They ought to be traveling right down here.“
Webb sent word that he was on his way to the Olympics, which begin Aug. 8. Woodford Webb said he returned from New York City on Sunday night and had a scheduling conflict Monday.
”Traveling,“ DeCamp snorted. ”That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. And we keep hearing these dumb things from people who, we're going to have to live with what they're going to do, for no telling how long.“
”It's shameful, shameful, that the Webbs, the others involved and their legal people“ were not present to see the designs and take part in the conversation between architects and audience members. That comment was met with applause.
Michael Speaks, UK's new dean of the College of Design, said the three designs will be on public display in the next few days in an as-yet-undetermined place.
The architectural teams said they would be willing to present their designs to the Urban County Council. Speaks said he will try to set up a meeting after the council returns from summer break in three weeks.